Ryan Pleijzier, from Derry, has won the NI Homesense ‘Young Achiever Award’ at The Prince’s Trust Awards.
Ryan was presented with the award at a ceremony at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast on Monday night.
The awards recognise the achievements of young people who have succeeded against the odds, improved their chances in life and had a positive impact on their local community, as well as those who have played a part in supporting the work of The Trust.
Ryan (26) was 21 when his mother died and he gave up his education to prevent his younger sister from being placed into care.
“She was 15 and the authorities wanted to put her into care almost 100 miles away from our home,” said Ryan. “There was no way I was going to let that happen, so I gave up my place at college and started looking after my sister instead.”
Ryan had to grow up very quickly; cooking, cleaning and budgeting to run the house whilst trying to support his sister at the same time.
“We didn’t have much money and I often relied on charity food parcels to get us fed. It was a real struggle. I was grieving for my mum, trying to parent my sister; I developed depression and anxiety.”
A friend contacted him through social media and told him about ‘Get into Cooking,’ a Prince’s Trust programme that gives unemployed young people the skills and confidence they need to find work in the sector.
Despite his doubts and nerves, Ryan decided to give it a chance.
“The skills, the training and the qualifications I gained all helped crank up my confidence and when I got offered a job following a work placement I’d done in a hotel kitchen, I couldn’t believe it.
“That was two years ago, and I’m still there. Because of The Prince’s Trust, I’ve discovered talents I didn’t know I had and because of that, life’s not so bleak anymore. I’m back to my old self and me and my sister are financially stable.”
Alongside his job in the kitchen, Ryan has completed formal catering training at college and is hoping to work his way up to a chef position.
He also harbours ambitions to further his career by travelling in different restaurants around the world.
Louise Greenlees, President, TK Maxx and Homesense, sponsors of the awards, said: ‘Ryan is a truly inspiring young man and is a very deserving winner of the Norther Ireland Young Achiever Award. He should be very proud and we’re sure he will continue to thrive. Well done, Ryan!’